Working from home is both amazing and amazingly stressful. You get to be home with your kids while contributing to the family income, but you also have to do the work of contributing to the family income while taking care of your kids. It’s awesome and hard all at the same time.
I’ve been there and done that through all three of my kids – two essentially regular kids and one kid with complex medical needs – and I’m here to share my wisdom! Take what you can use, leave the rest.
Establish a predictable rhythm
Notice I didn’t say “schedule.” I think every other “how to be a work at home mom” article I’ve ever read tells you to get that baby on a schedule. But I am one of those moms who doesn’t believe babies operate on a schedule, and I don’t operate on one, either. But you’ll both do better with a predictable rhythm to your day.
How do you establish this? Start with any hard and fast regular time commitments. Need to start dinner around 4:30? Like to get out of bed at 6 am? Whatever your established times are, build your day’s natural flow into that. First breakfast, then personal care, then play time with the baby, then a short work period, then lunch, then more work time with breaks as needed, then start dinner at 4:30. You don’t need a schedule with set times, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and behind, but having a predictable rhythm has several benefits. First, it helps your child(ren) know what to expect from the day. Second, it helps ensure you do the things you need to do. If you always do work after lunch, it just becomes a habit and you’re less likely to put it off and get backed up in your work. Third, it gives you a general sense of how your day will go. If your child is generally quiet and content in the afternoons, for example, you know this is the best time to work, and this is NOT a good time to schedule a pediatrician appointment.
Plan to be interrupted
I mean, it’s just going to happen. When kids are young (babies, young toddlers), they literally cannot wait patiently. In my experience, when I was working while caring for babies and young toddlers, things seemed to go easier, better, and faster if I just accepted the interruption immediately and handled whatever it was. A feed, or a diaper change, or some interaction. Feed the baby while they’re still relatively happy, and all you have to do is feed them. Wait until they’re really unhappy about it, and now you have to calm them down AND feed them – your interruption is twice as long. (Yes, I’m kind of referring to your kid as an interruption.)
Plan for uninterrupted times
As your baby gets older, naptimes will start to become less frequent but longer. Have a plan so you don’t waste this precious time! Plan in advance what you’re going to do at naptime. Then as soon as you can sneak away from them, run – don’t walk – and get ‘er done.
If you need longer stretches of uninterrupted time, you’ll have to make it happen with the help of someone else. Grandma, a friend, another work at home mom with whom you trade childcare, your spouse, a paid sitter. Personally, I found that it worked best for me to get the kiddo to sleep at night then sneak away and work until he/she woke up for his/her first night feed. It was usually several hours. We coslept so my husband was right there with them and could take care of any non-breast needs if they should arise. Working in the middle of the night may not be ideal, but it worked well for us.
Get and stay organized
Keep a good to-do list. Keep your supplies well-organized. Keep your workspace organized. Keep a good, current calendar, and use email folders and labels, and all of those time management and organization tips. I know this doesn’t come naturally to some people, but let’s look at two people I know well. (OK, it’s me and my husband.)
One of us maintains a to do list. Several, actually. When I get up in the morning, I know exactly how I’m going to spend my work time that day. I also know what non-work tasks I need to accomplish. I mentally budget my time so I know, for example, that if I want to shower before dinner, I need to wrap up my work by 5:30. And I know that means I need to plan to wrap up by 5. When I’m working, I start at the top of my list and work my way down. While I’m finishing up one task, I look at what’s next and start mentally planning what I need for that. I move from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. And when I need tools, they’re right where I expect them to be, because I put them away when I was done using them.
The other of us does not use a to do list. Well, sometimes he does. In his head. He gets up and thinks about what he’s going to do for a while. Then he goes to see if he can find the things he needs to do whichever thing sounds best to him. That usually takes a while, and half the day’s usually gone by the time he’s gotten started. Once he’s finished one task, he sits down somewhere to decide what to do next. An hour later, he starts the next thing. He has no plan, so he doesn’t get as much done because he spends so much time trying to plan in the moment.
I’m not saying one way is better than the other… but one way is definitely more productive.
Make your workspace safe
Make your workspace safe for your baby or toddler and establish a special spot for them. Before my babies were able to crawl, I had a soft pad on the floor of my office and I dangled toys for them to play with from various office equipment. As they started rolling and scooting, we moved more toys down to my office, and as they became toddlers, they each had their own special spot in my office with crayons and a chalkboard, dolls and cars, whatever they were into.
I also caged them in, but not in a tiny playpen, which gets boring fast and isn’t quite what toddlers need developmentally. When my office was a more or less open space, I bought one of those long plastic modular baby fences and strung it up all around my area. When I moved my office into a room with a better doorway, we used a regular baby gate. I knew my office area was 100% safe for them, and I knew they couldn’t get out, so I could work in peace knowing they were safe and nearby.
Having them in your workspace also allows you to maintain verbal contact if you’re doing something that allows for that, which is a nice way to stay involved and interactive with your kids while still getting your work done. I primarily sew, so I can carry on a conversation with my kids while still working.
Nursing time is a great time to catch up on social media (if you do that as part of your work), to read relevant articles, or even to do desk work like accounting or blogging. It all depends on your breasts and your baby, though. I was always able to work with at least one hand while nursing (after that floppy head newborn stage), but some moms are not able to make this work. Try using a My Breast Friend pillow if you find you need more hands.
Yes, ideally, breastfeeding is a time of bonding and eye contact. Until your baby hits that stage where they’re distracted by everything. During that stage, I found that I basically had to ignore them if I wanted them to eat at all, otherwise it was an hour of smiles and spraying breastmilk around the room, but no actual eating took place.
I know moms who work from home and don’t babywear, but it’s so much easier with a carrier or two. I’ve used my carriers to enable me to:
- wear and bounce an unhappy teething or sick baby while typing by elevating my laptop so I could easily reach it while standing, or by sitting and bouncing on an exercise ball.
- Hold a child through his nap so he’ll stay asleep longer while I continue to work at my desk or my sewing machine.
- Comfort a toddler who’s having one of those days when they just want to be held, but I have a hard deadline and can’t devote a day to JUST snuggles.
- And of course all of the NOT work related uses.
Regular exercise helps you work better. Be mindful about giving your body attention – stretch, do some squats, take 3 minutes and jog in place. If you have toddlers, have a dance party with them, or run around the couch a few times. Babies and toddlers are pretty easy to exercise with!
Do NOT get so focused on your work that you neglect the children that you’re staying home for. It’s so easy to get into this “ok, I’ll read to you after I do this. And this. And this.” But, much like with feeding and diaper changes, I found it worked better to stop what I was doing as soon as practical and take care of the need for attention right away. Not only did this reinforce to my kids that they are more important than work, but it also helped me be more productive when I was working. We kept a small stack of favorite books in my office, and the kids would grab one and climb up in my lap for a quick read a few times a day, which was enjoyable for us both. (And I can still recite my 15 year old’s favorite book from this time, lol. It was called A Little Spot of Color.)
Help your older toddlers learn about waiting
There are plenty of resources out there that can help you with this, but I started by simply teaching my children the ASL sign for “wait.” I started by choosing times when I was available immediately, and consciously chose to ask them (nonverbally) to wait, then waiting about 5 seconds before looking at them and addressing their need. I gradually lengthened this, and when that was going well, I added “can you wait five minutes?” to our repertoire. I tried not to push them beyond their capabilities, while stretching them JUST enough.
Using a visual timer can help a lot, too. I have a whole blog post about visual timers you might want to check out. Toddlers struggle with time concepts, and waiting even one minute can feel like forever, but if you use a visual timer, it helps them see the time passing.
Help your older toddlers play alone
Again, lots of parenting resources out there, but what worked for me was sitting down with my toddler to play, but letting them know that I’d need to stop after a little bit so I could do some more work while they kept playing. We’d play for a bit, then I’d stop playing but stay with them, then I’d get up and go back to work and let them play for a bit.
You can’t always be working. You have to not be working sometimes. Establish hard and fast rules for this for yourself. Do you have a morning playtime with your kids? No working during this time, not even if your phone chimes that you have a new message.
Are you enjoying dinner with your family? Again, no working during this time.
You cannot be available to your clients/customers/bosses 24 hours a day. Establish rules for when you are unavailable and stick to them. Reassess how you’re doing with this regularly.